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Despite Rumors of Chaos, Closing of Highway 36 Goes Smoothly on First Day

A section of Highway 36 closed on Tuesday for construction between White Bear Avenue and Century Avenue. After being publicized for months in newspapers, on the radio, and on television, most people thought that the morning and afternoon commutes on Tuesday would be chaotic. Surprisingly, it went smoothly, according to morning and afternoon articles in both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.

Reported and posted online after the morning rush hour, the Pioneer Press said "Motorists met today's challenge of getting around a partially closed Minnesota 36, and found that traffic on some alternate routes were chugging along." While many people were still skeptical about the afternoon rush hour, convinced that it would be "backed up forever," an evening post on the Star Tribune's website painted a different picture.

According to the Star Tribune article: "MnDOT's Regional Transportation Management Center in Roseville watched traffic behavior with freeway cameras during the morning and evening rush hours and concluded that most motorists were taking the posted detours onto Interstate Hwys. 694 and 94, judging by traffic volumes.

Todd Fairbanks, a dispatcher for the traffic center who watched evening rush hour via camera, was pleasantly surprised.

"I wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "The word got out there, well in advance, so people were aware of the closure. We'll be fine."

While many residents said they had steered free of the work zone, motorists passing through found themselves backed up for a mile or two on eastbound Hwy. 36. They detoured onto side streets, backing up traffic for blocks at some Maplewood intersections."

Still, many commuters anticipate the delays to get longer as the summer continues. From the Strib: "Rachel Franco, of Oakdale, predicted that the worst is yet to come, as people stop leaving early or later.

Meanwhile, John Hourdos, director of the Minnesota Traffic Observatory at the University of Minnesota, said it typically takes three to four weeks for people to settle into a pattern. In the first few days, people may leave early and try their new routes and then gradually try their old departure times on their new routes until they can't improve their travel time by making different choices.

During that time, Hourdos would not expect things to go "boink" and break down. "If that doesn't happen the first few days, the learning process is gradual and it will not produce crazy results," he said."

The section of road will be closed until November, a length of time that was (interestingly) reported differently in the two news stories. The Star Tribune said it would be closed for "months" while the Pioneer Press said "until November." Other reports have said "five months" or "six months," creating a disparity as to exactly how long the road will be under construction.